This is outside Seattle City Hall.
This is outside Seattle City Hall. Mayor's Office

On Tuesday, two co-chairs of the Seattle Arts Commission resigned over Mayor Jenny Durkan's sudden appointment of former Center on Contemporary Art executive director Royal Alley-Barnes to the position of interim director of the Office of Arts and Cultures (ARTS), reported Publicola. The position was vacated by Randy Engstrom earlier this year, with Calandra Childers stepping in as acting director until now. In an open letter announcing their resignations, Dr. Quinton Morris and Sarah Wilke of the commission criticized the mayor's "lack of process" without "any input or involvement from the Arts Commission or arts and cultural community members."

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Cue a flurry of other open letters: As reported by Publicola, Tim Lennon of LANGSTON as well as a group of members from the ARTS Director Search Advisory Committee wrote letters arguing the mayor didn't consult with community members while making her decision. Lennon criticized "the total apparent lack of consultation with our sector" and the "utter lack of an articulated strategy for ARTS which necessitates this leadership change four months before the end of this administration." Earlier this week, City Council President Lorena González and CM Tammy Morales also expressed frustration with Durkan's snap appointment of Alley-Barnes, though they ultimately concurred with the mayor.

In an emailed statement to The Stranger: A spokesperson with the mayor's office noted that the mayor followed a similar process appointing other acting or interim directors in the city. They did not consult stakeholders in the appointments of Rico Quirindongo, Pamela Banks, and Helen Howell to their city positions. In a separate email, the mayor's spokesperson Kamaria Hightower said it was "unfortunate" that the commission chairs resigned, but she is "grateful" González and Morales are now on board with Alley-Barnes. She included several letters from various community members and artists—like former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett and Judith Rayl of CoCA—in support of Alley-Barnes' appointment.

It's worth noting: Alley-Barnes is the first Black director to lead ARTS. It's also worth noting that ARTS came under fire from a former Black employee, Paul Rucker, for anti-Black discrimination during his tenure at the department.

About that Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibition: It was supposed to open here in the city this month, but its secret location was never revealed and some customers reported that their tickets had been canceled. Now, the Seattle Times says the immersive installation has been pushed back to Oct. 15, giving consumers the option to reschedule or receive a full refund. Organizers behind the installation are still keeping the location under wraps.

Recently, King County announced that it has allocated $20 million in grants for the cultural sector: The funds come from the American Rescue Plan and are up for grabs from "cultural organizations and creative businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," says the press release. The money will specifically go towards organizations that can prove their inclusivity and service to a diverse community within the county. Here's how those funds—which organizations could start applying for last week—break down per the county's release:

  • $16.5 million to arts, culture, and heritage organizations with a pre-COVID 19 full operating season annual budget of more than $1 million
  • $1.5 million to science organizations that promote science and nature conservation through education, exhibition, and other programs by public admission in King County
  • $1 million to independently owned and operated live music venues
  • $500,000 to independently owned and operated movie theatres

  • Additionally, $9.4 million is going to 4Culture to distribute to smaller arts organizations with pre-COVID operating budgets under $1 million. Yesterday, 4Culture went live with the application for those grants.

    Well, how will the county make sure that the funds are equitably dispersed? In an email last week, county spokesperson Kristin Elia said they are "doing broad outreach" with their Equity Cabinet and partners to make sure "BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+-focused organizations are aware of this opportunity and the application details therein."

    And what do arts advocacy orgs and cultural venues think about this allocation of funds? “Finally, finally! Finally!” said Manny Cawaling, executive director of arts advocacy organization Inspire Washington, in a call last week summarizing his feelings about King County's plan. "The funding that folks can start to apply for to access has been a long—over a year—effort of advocacy." Cawaling praised the county's "commitment to cultural work" and hopes to see more counties and cities in the state follow suit.

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    “The timing of this is great because a lot of the federal relief sources have expired, so organizations are going to start to get a little cash hungry,” Cawaling observed. Especially as the Delta variant causes some slowdown around the arts, he thinks audiences will “tip toe back into spaces” making monetary support essential to many organization's success.

    From another perspective: In an email to The Stranger, Ellen Walker, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, wrote that the $20 million in funds opening up to arts organizations in the county "come at a critical time." Noting that the ballet's COVID safety measures are expensive to implement, she wrote that she hopes to use funds for "rapid tests for artists, and the additional personnel required to keep out audiences and venues safe and comfortable."

    The city installed a new long-term Black Lives Matter mural in front of Seattle City Hall: It's....interesting. The sidewalk public art installation has "BLACK LIVES MATTER" written in black and "enough is enough" laid overtop in red script. In a release announcing the installation, the mayor's office said the project came about at the behest of orgs like the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) and Onyx Fine Arts Collective asking the city to demonstrate its support of BLM. The mural is composed of durable materials designed to last at least five years with the Seattle Department of Transportation providing maintenance. What I will say is that "enough is enough" isn't the first phrase I'd associate with the BLM movement.

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